Den Building – An Endangered Activity.

Yesterday was one of those afternoons where all three decided to be in the house, but they couldn’t settle to play without getting at each other.  I had some baking to do for visitors the next day, but once that was cracked, I chivied them into their outdoor gear, packed up some supplies, and we headed into the woods over the road.  I declared an afternoon of den building was required!  We’ve done this many times before, but not recently, and not since we’ve moved to Sweden.  So, with the sun and rain alternating, and to the backdrop of birdsong and woodpeckers hammering (we have a lot of woodpeckers in our woods!), my trio set about their challenge.  I deliberately stayed out of it.  This was something for them to be creative and work together, not for a grown up to intervene with their ideas and commands.

I have written about the benefits of outdoor play a lot before ( ), so why did I specifically take them out to build to a den?  Dens can be built both indoors and outdoors, but I needed to get them out the house, and life works a lot better outdoors for us.  Building a den challenges the little person both mentally and physically.  They are using their imagination and creative thinking to come up with a place that will stay standing, and provide a little bit of shelter.  Dens also provide a sense of self.  An adult might ruin this experience with their ideas of making it look nice and being functional, whereas the child is more interested in its purpose.  They are coming at den building from a completely different angle.  The children are problem solving as they try and make their construction stand up and stay up!  They are getting a great physical workout, but having a huge amount of fun in the process.  The main reason I sent my trio out there was for the benefit of team work.  It was to get them working together and enjoying each other’s company, with the sense of achievement at the end, that comes from succeeding at something together.  Ultimately, once the den is done, comes the fantastic thing that is role play.  The den turns into a fort, or a secret hiding place, or in our case yesterday, a house for playing out whatever scenario took their fancy.

As usual our little lady took command of the project, but I was careful to mention quietly to her to try and use listening ears with the mini men.  They have ideas too, and then I left them to it, to work at their team building and negotiating skills between them, and hopefully produce a den whilst having fun at the same time!  She marched them off deeper into the woods (we had stopped by a fire pit so we had a central location for them to return to), to select their site.  They then went off in search of supplies.  She was very lucky, and managed to find a huge sheet of plastic tarpaulin!  Whilst they set about their construction I busied myself making a Kelly Kettle fire for hot drinks, and a little fire for marshmallow toasting, as den building works up an incredible appetite…especially if your are 9, and in the past few days have developed hollow legs!

After a bit of sustenance I headed back into the den location with them, to see what they had excitedly been chatting about over the camp fire.  They had made a fantastic den, but they had also located a rope swing, and some excellent climbing trees.  I watched them play and enjoyed listening to them, before the rain started.  Whilst we don’t head indoors when it rains (that is a whole other story to tell about how rain is fun!), I did think it was a chance to get cosy inside the den with a new story book I had brought out with me in the backpack (all three of mine love stories).  So we crawled in and read our book.  Our little lady started it off, and then I took over so she could enjoy being read to as well, which is important that I remember the fact that although she loves reading, she loves listening too.

They had a great afternoon, and were in a much better mood when we returned home, cooperating better together 🙂  With children playing out less, having less unstructured play time, and more scheduled activities, den building (both indoors and out) is in real danger of disappearing from their play, but is vitally necessary for their development.  Go on….get them out there today (or challenge them to build one indoors if you really can’t face going out!), and sit back and wait to reap the benefits of their play session.  Then maybe you could facilitate a feast for them in their hideout too.  Honestly, you will have a few hours of peace, it’s worth it for parents too.  If going outdoors, take a book to enjoy. If at home, just enjoy the calm to get some of your own down time 🙂

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  1. I am so on your wave length with all of this. We have a purpose den building area at Coombe Mill with lots of loose branches and sticks lying around. It is just enough in the wooded setting to inspire our holiday makers to build and rebuild dens in there and we have a rope swing at the end of our welly walk. Enjoying woodland is so easy with a little imagination and team work. I love how easily your children set about their task and of course incentivised with your famous outdoor cooking.

    Thank you for sharing a lovely outdoor adventure on #CountryKids

    • It’s so nice to give them the freedom to just get on with it, and important too! Your place sounds so fantastic for a holiday with little people 🙂

  2. I used to love den building as a child. It was always great getting outdoors and creating something that belong to us. #countrykids

  3. jo

    My children absolutely love den building. They can do it for hours creating their own little worlds. Taking the kettle and marshmallows to toast is inpired! #CountryKids

  4. Wonderful! I love this post. #countrykids

  5. N loves building dens too. We must have lots of stuff around the farm, so maybe we should create an area he can make dens in. #countrykids

  6. What a superb post… Honestly, I am going to march my kids off to the forest ASAP and see what they come up with. (In fact, we did this once before and the result was surprisingly impressive, if not entirely watertight… ).

    Couldn’t agree more with your philosophy and attitude. And am ever-so-slightly jealous of your Kelly Kettle… #CountryKids

    • Lol!! Yes watertight never seems to be a child’s objective 🙂 I’m glad you enjoyed the post, as much as we had fun being in the woods. Our kelly kettle is an addiction! Not always practical to carry around but we do by hanging it off the back of the backpack as it is so much fun for the trio to use and learn to use fire with.

  7. What a cracking den!! I agree it should be done more often – its a lot of fun and satisfying when you make something haha .
    Popping over from #CountryKids 🙂

  8. Such such an amazing read! My son was gifted a DS last Christmas and I started working so its less and less going out for us and more him playing it to the point that sometimes when I talk to him I get a passive answer. I am planning to have more days out this summer and hopefully I will be successful in making him go out and play out more than just stare at his DS all day. #countrykids

  9. We love den building too, although I’m never allowed to not join in with the process. It’s a wonderful part of childhood isn’t it #CountryKids

    • It is, and whilst I don’t like to miss out either, I can certainly see the benefits of them not wanting an adult “helping”

  10. Love it – my two definitely have hollow legs too. So happy that more places are on board with the den building now, including two of our favourite spots at Bedgebury Pinetum and NT Scotney Castle, both of which provide dedicated den building areas and ready cut materials 🙂

  11. #countrykids – always blooming forget to add that 🙂

  12. We love our den making here too. As they get older, they are more and more elaborate. They’ve been known to sleep out in them a few times, which is helping them to develop a practical approach to their design. Totally agree with getting them outside to work as a team. #CountryKids

    • oooo maybe when mine are older I can get them to sleep out in theirs, although I’m not sure they’ll agree yet with moose in the woods!!

  13. My girls have enjoyed helping older children build dens a couple of times although lost interest after a few minutes – I think they’re still quite little for den building but there are so many places locally where they can give it a try so plenty of opportunities as they get bigger. They quite like exploring inside the ones that we come across that have already been built though! It’s such a good way of getting children to work together and I never thought of it as helping problem solving skills too but of course it does. Love how you ended up getting inside and reading a story together too 🙂 #countrykids

  14. Love the idea of making dens with the little ones but think our youngest would try to eat them right now! #CountryKids

  15. It looks like they had a wonderful time. Mine love building dens together too, both indoors and out!

  16. This is fantastic and something we don’t do enough in or out! I really like their outfits ideal for enjoying the outside! #CountryKids

  17. I agree it’s worrying how outdoor play seems to be fading fast. We love to den build and it’s a great activity that you can do all year round.

  18. Such a fun idea – my husband enjoys building dens with our eldest, but I really need to make the effort too 🙂
    Helen recently posted…FAMILY: Cooking Nutritious Meals with the Nutribaby(+)My Profile

  19. My girls love to build a den and there are a few woods near us that they do this a lot in. So much fun x

  20. Ah we love den building too! It’s so lovely to get outdoors and just get stuck in!
    five little doves recently posted…Saving our sanity with EasySMX HeadsetMy Profile

  21. We love a spot of den building and living near the New Forest thankfully it is something we do fairly frequently
    Kara recently posted…Our Journey to Lapland with Santa’s LaplandMy Profile

  22. My kids love playing outdoors. Me not so much. Think we need to spend some more time just playing outside with the shorter days we are having.

  23. Tell my kids we’re going for a walk in the woods and they’ll be obstinate as you like about leaving the house. Ask if they want to go out to the woods and build a den they’re totally up for it! One of our favourite pastimes 🙂

  24. What a great activity and a great idea indeed to let the children’s imagination run wild and create the den,
    Anosa recently posted…{Christmas 2017 #giftideas} Fitness JunkiesMy Profile

  25. I loved den building.Kids activities has as well evolved over time due to technology and advancement. I’m sure kids today will still enjoy den building.
    Lauretta At Home and Horizon recently posted…9 Clever ‘Can’t Go Wrong’ Gift Ideas for an Interiors FanMy Profile

  26. This is such a lovely idea. I love that you had marshmallows and everything. It sounds like they really pulled together as a mini team. What a fun afternoon. I’m going to take a leaf out of your book and try this soon .x

  27. We love den building but are yet to try it outdoors. Maybe when we go to Denmark next.

  28. Brilliant! I used to love den building, when I was a kid. So important for fun activities like this should be passed onto the next generation.

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